In a single moment, you can change a life. Marissa Baxter had always heard this, but it wasn’t until later in life that she believed it.
She always believed one was responsible for their own happiness. If they succeeded, they must have worked hard. If they failed, well, they must not have worked hard enough. In her mind, it was all so clear-cut, everything black or white.
It was a clear May afternoon when her convictions were shattered.
The morning had been the same as every morning for the last two years. She’d woken to the sound of her alarm clock screeching, showered, and dressed in a cream colored pant suit. Her golden honey hair had been impossible- she should have taken this as a sign and crawled back under the soft, fluffy covers. To her, that would have been weak, so she pinned it up into a tight bun, knowing fully well she’d have a raging headache by the day’s end.
She wasn’t exactly on time when she reached the corner coffee shop for her daily dose of caffeine. She splurged on her favorite mocha drink, extra whip cream, and chocolate sprinkles. The shop was packed with morning commuters, more-so than usual. Her drink took longer than expected and rushed to the exit, fearful of being late. Today was a big day.
Marissa collided with a stranger as she raced through the door. Her coffee cup smashed against her chest. The lid popped off, resulting in the iced coffee spilling down the front of her white blouse and cream jacket.
Just great, she thought. There was no time to go home and change, now. The man in the dark gray suit tried to apologize, but Marissa just pushed passed him. She couldn’t be late. Not today.
Today was the day she was sure she’d move up the ladder to become a senior associate. She was sure of it. The last two years she’d spent pouring over boxes and boxes of case histories, writing reports that rivaled the work the other junior associates were putting out. She’d managed to track down sever witnesses no one else could get at. Not an easy feat in heels.
She supplied donuts for the entire office on a weekly basis. She kept the community coffee pot full of fresh coffee. She did it all with a smile on her face. This promotion was hers; she knew it.
The office was buzzing with nervous excitement when she walked in. She made her way to her desk in the center of the room. She hoped nobody noticed her with the gigantic coffee stain down her front.
As the minutes ticked by to the official start of the day, the office quieted as employees found their way to their own stations. Marissa took a series of deep breaths to calm her racing nerves. At nine o’clock sharp Mr. Maxwell, one of the firm’s only two partners, began calling the junior associates in one by one.
Marissa tried to focus on her work. She did her best not to be distracted, but she couldn’t help noticing the faces that came out of the too large office. One by one, employees made their way back to their desks. A couple came to unload their case files to the new recruits that would be coming in to fill the open positions, others began packing their belongings in a more thorough manner.
She’d watched the same process last year. It made her work even harder not to be one of those with the sullen faces and failure hanging from their sleeves.
It was almost time to break for lunch when Marissa was called back. She swallowed the lump in her throat and walked with her head held high. She wished she’d had time to run home and change as she’d intended to do at lunch, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“Miss Baxter,” Mr. Maxwell’s deep voice grated against her skin. She wished Abigail was the one doing the progress reports, but since she worked directly under Charles, this was her fate. “Please, have a seat.”
She took the chair offered as he shut the door.
“As you know, it’s time for our yearly cleaning house. You’ve noticed some of your coworkers clearing out their desks. Unfortunately, we only have a limited number of senior associate positions open.”
Fear was choking her. “I understand that, Mr. Maxwell.”
For the first time in her two year employment with the firm, he didn’t correct her formality. Warning bells sounded in her head. This was not good.
“Your work has been exemplary, Miss Maxwell. I won’t argue that point. I’ve taken the liberty of writing out a letter of recommendation. I’m sure another firm would be honored to have you, but we lack the resources to continue your employment here.”
“I don’t understand,” she didn’t mean to speak, but the words came out anyway.
“Please, don’t make a scene, Miss Baxter. If you wouldn’t mind, clean out your desk and be gone as soon as possible.”
Marissa rose without another word. Silently, she ordered herself not to cry. There must have been something she hadn’t done as well as the others. She made the walk of shame with her body trembling against her will.
Her work was her life, so packing didn’t take long. She watched Janie walk into Mr. Maxwell’s office and pitied the girl. Her fate couldn’t be any better than Marissa’s had.
She was all packed, but something kept her in place, waiting for the other girl to leave her conference. When Janie left Mr. Maxwell’s office in her inappropriately high skirt, there was a new bounce in her step. The smile on her face screamed of accomplishment. A wave of shock shot straight through Marissa.
How did Janie – with her inappropriate wardrobe and mediocre (at best) reports that were rarely turned in on time – get the promotion she herself had been passed over for?
Hot tears stung at her eyes as she picked up her small box of personal effects and left. At least she had something to cover the horrid coffee stain that had ruined the designer suit she definitely couldn’t afford now.
She walked with no place to go. She didn’t want to talk to anybody and certainly didn’t want to go home to her empty apartment.
She didn’t know how much time had passed when she found herself sitting on a park bench, alone with her thoughts. Everything was so green, so beautiful. The flowers were beginning to bloom. She should have felt content, the beauty of her surroundings should have sent a wave of serenity washing over her, but all she felt was empty, confused, and angry.
She’d gone over it a thousand time in her mind. She’d gone above and beyond. She’d devoted her last two years to be discarded like yesterday’s garbage; to be replaced by a floozy who’d no doubt used her feminine charms to get what she had put her blood, sweat, and tears into achieving.
She couldn’t stop the salty tears from streaming down her cheeks. She tried to wipe them away as she heard foot steps approaching.
A smooth masculine voice said, “There’s no use crying over spilled coffee.”
She thought she recognized the voice, but couldn’t place it. She looked from her half-empty box, which was covering the spill, to the man standing before her in a dark gray suit.
“You,” she accused as her gaze traveled over the designer suit that covered his broad chest. His strong jaw was clean-shaven. His nose may have seemed to large on another, but it seemed to fit him perfectly. Her eyes finally rested on the greenest pair of eyes she’d ever seen.
“I tried to apologize,” he said taking a seat on the bench, “But you must have been in a hurry to pack.”
Indignation filled her voice, “I was supposed to be promoted today.”
“Were you any good?”
“The best.” She wasn’t bragging. She knew how good she was.
“So, why’d they let you go?”
Marissa shrugged and handed him the letter of recommendation. She’d read it herself; Mr. Maxwell had made it sound like she walked on water. She didn’t understand; couldn’t understand.
“I think I can help you. My firm has been looking for a new senior associate. We do promote from within, but each cycle we try to bring in some new blood. It sounds like you’re well qualified. Let me tell you what, be at my office nine a.m. sharp on Monday.” He handed her a small piece of paper that had to be a business card. “Details are on the back.”
He stood and walked away before Marissa had a chance to speak. Details consisted of the starting yearly salary: $82,000. Her eyes nearly bulged out of her head. That was an additional $7,000 to what her previous firm had offered their senior associates.
She’d be at that office Monday, she decided. She would work hard to earn her place. A slow smile spread over her lips as she got up. One moment really could change your life, she mused silently, and for her it started with spilled coffee.